Sixers

3 observations after Sixers pull out win over Clippers without 2 starters

Sixers

For a second consecutive Sixers game, it’s necessary to highlight that a slew of key players did not suit up.

Before that, though, we’ll note the Sixers moved to 39-17 with a 106-103 win over the Clippers. 

Marcus Morris missed a potential game-tying three-pointer on Los Angeles' final possession. Danny Green opted not to foul, though that's what Sixers head coach Doc Rivers would've preferred. 

“I always want to foul," he said. “The problem was (Morris) kind of faced the basket, and it puts you in a tough spot. What we’re trying to get our guys to see is once the guy pushes the ball down, once it hits down, you foul. But Danny felt like he had too much of a cushion. That’s where you’ve got to leave it up to the player at that point. But we always foul."

Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 36 points and 14 rebounds. Ben Simmons had 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

Furkan Korkmaz was the Sixers' No. 2 scorer with 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

The Clippers’ Paul George posted 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists. 

A total of seven players missed Friday’s game: 

  • Tobias Harris (right knee soreness) 
  • Dwight Howard (left knee soreness)
  • Seth Curry (left hip flexor tightness)
  • George Hill (right thumb surgery)
  • Kawhi Leonard (right foot soreness) 
  • Serge Ibaka (lower back tightness)
  • Patrick Beverley (fourth metacarpal fracture, left hand) 

A significant list, to put it mildly.

The Sixers’ next game is Monday night vs. the Warriors. Here are three observations on their win over the Clippers:

All eyes on Embiid 

On the game’s first Embiid post-up, the big man encountered an aggressive Clippers double team. The Sixers have an effective counter for that scheme, though. They immediately used Embiid in “Delay” actions, having him conduct the offense from the top of the key.

 

That approach tends to encourage good team spacing, allowing Embiid to both see the floor well and attack his man in 1-on-1 situations. He scored eight quick points and the Sixers blitzed the Clippers, seizing a 20-3 lead.

“It changes everything," Embiid said. “When I got hurt and I was coming back to the court, me and my trainer, we started talking about … how to attack teams that double team me, or that come from the baseline, or that directly come as soon as the ball is in the air. And we were trying to find ways to go against it. I have watched Dirk (Nowitzki) before, but we started watching a lot of Dirk film, and just playing at the nail and the moves he was using. It’s hard to double from that nail, because I see the whole court.

“As soon as someone comes (double team), I see everybody. ... It’s hard to double from that nail area. I thought tonight, because of the way they were guarding me on the left block, as soon as I got to the nail, everything just opened up. I just started playing from there, making shots that we’ve been working on. And when they were coming, kick it out to shooters.”

Los Angeles still doubled Embiid whenever it could, recognizing that him passing to an open man on the perimeter was likely to be less harmful than a chance against single coverage.

Just like the Nets on Wednesday night, the Clippers also tried fronting the post. Doing so prevented the Sixers from getting Embiid a touch on a few plays, though it didn’t completely stump the Sixers the same way it had against Brooklyn. They seemed to have a clearer understanding of how to respond, looking for high-lows with Simmons and Embiid or searching for the correct wing angle to make an entry pass. 

Outside of Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers had a quick trigger from beyond the arc. The team attempted 44 threes, making 14 (31.8 percent). Heading into the game, the Sixers had averaged 29.7 long-range attempts per game. 

Sixers get the stops they need

The Sixers’ two most eye-catching defensive plays of the night occurred in the same spot. 

Matisse Thybulle made a swift closeout in the second quarter to block a Luke Kennard three-point attempt from the right corner, and he couldn’t help but smile after the loud thwack. Simmons swatted a Patrick Patterson jump shot later in the period and raised his arms to spur on the home crowd. 

Green began the game on George, which enabled Simmons to pressure point guard Reggie Jackson and also play a roving role. The Sixers started very well as a team defensively but couldn't sustain their high level of execution. 

 

While the Sixers’ transition defense was better than usual (Los Angeles only scored four fast-break points), the Clippers had success driving and kicking out to three-point shooters, breaking down the Sixers and creating uncomfortable, scrambling situations once they managed to penetrate into the paint.

Los Angeles finally erased the Sixers' lead on a Patterson corner three with 11:24 remaining in the game. 

“We gave up 19 threes and they had 39 attempts, which I didn’t like," Rivers said. “I thought we didn’t show great discipline leaving guys, leaving the corner. But overall, I liked the intensity; I liked our pressure. We forced guys into turnovers, and that’s the stuff we have to do. They had 19 turnovers tonight, and I thought that was the difference in the game.”

Simmons defended George in the final minutes and, as they often have this season, the Sixers played sturdy clutch defense — sturdy enough, anyway.

A Jackson three with 21.2 seconds left cut their lead to one. Green, who recorded four steals and two blocks, converted two free throws on the ensuing possession despite a lot of gamesmanship from the Clippers' sideline delaying his second attempt. 

Sixers’ makeshift frontcourt 

Harris and Howard’s absences forced several changes to the Sixers’ typical frontcourt rotations.

Mike Scott started for Harris, while Paul Reed played as a backup center late in the first period. The rookie committed a turnover attempting to execute a handoff on the wing and ended up playing only two minutes. 

Anthony Tolliver checked in for his Sixers debut to start the second quarter. With his first NBA action since Aug. 13, 2020, he’s now appeared for 11 franchises. The 35-year-old was solid overall without contributing anything startlingly positive. He didn’t stand out in his first stint other than a play where he needed to guard George in transition and fouled him at the rim. Still, blending in and playing decent defense works just fine for a player pressed into duty under emergency circumstances. 

After Scott picked up his fourth foul, Tolliver entered early in the third quarter. He blocked George with 29.8 seconds left in the period, rotating over to ensure the seven-time All-Star didn’t have an easy layup and leaping with good verticality to contest him at the rim. Tolliver missed both of his field-goal attempts, going scoreless in 14 minutes. 

“He was great," Rivers said. “I felt bad for him. He didn’t know anything, play-wise. We put him at the five, at the four. I was laughing with (assistant coach) Dave Joerger, I said, ‘Does it matter? He doesn’t know either position anyway. We could put him at the point guard. I mean, he doesn’t know any position.’ We just wanted him out there to space the floor, and I thought he did that. I thought he actually made a couple pretty good defensive plays for us, as well.”

Tyrese Maxey was another Sixer asked to play more than he normally would. He had some nice moments, sinking a long pull-up three in the second quarter and scoring nine points in 16 minutes. 

 

“I tell you, him and Paul Reed and Isaiah (Joe), along with our skill development (staff), if you watch them work — and listen, I’ve been coaching 20 years — this is the best group I’ve seen of what you would call the low-minute group," Rivers said. “It’s the hardest-working low-minute group I’ve ever been around. They work every day; they play scrimmages; they play hard; they execute our stuff.

“And that is hard for a rookie. You’re not playing a lot. You don’t know if you’re going to play. And to show up every day and want to work on stuff that you probably won’t be able to do, man, it’s hard. And so I give them a lot of credit. He’s kept his focus. And I keep telling him, ‘Man, you’re going to win a game for us. You’re going to win a game in the regular season; you’re going to win a game in the playoffs for us. You just have to be ready when that time comes.’”